Filing through the “Sidewalk Surfing” exhibit just before its opening, Everhart Museum curator Nezka Pfeifer and executive director Cara Sutherland explained that the finished collection wouldn’t look much different than what was already in progress.
“If we make this really prim and pristine, it’s not going to do it justice,” Pfeifer said.
After all, what good would a clean-cut exhibit on the art and culture of skateboarding do for the general public?
In the works for the past two years, “Sidewalk Surfing” recently opened with a variety of local flavor tied to the global phenomenon that may be more commonly associated these days with the ESPN’s X Games than it is with Dogtown.
Lenders from across the country donated items to the museum, and the exhibit includes part of the historic skateboarding collection from the Strong Museum in Rochester, N.Y., as well as items from two private collectors in Maryland.
Locally, collector and NEPA Skatepark Alliance leader James Gidosh donated about 25 of the more than 200 vintage skateboards he’s collected during the past 15 years. He still recalls how he was first drawn to the sport.
“I saw a neighbor doing a handstand down the street skateboarding and said, ‘I’d like to do something like that,’” Gidosh said.
In the past decade, Gidosh has tried working with several municipalities in the Wyoming Valley to build a free, public skate park. Efforts in Wilkes-Barre and Nanticoke have stalled, but the group continues to pursue new avenues. Meanwhile, he’s added to a rare collection.
“I have a passion for collecting the older, earlier-style boards, ones that have the graphics on the bottom from when skateboarding really started to take off,” Gidosh, 35, of Wilkes-Barre, said. “I find all kinds of different boards – ones with the metal roller-skate wheels, clay-style wheels, and even the ones that are really primitive, the homemade ones.
“They’re rare and hard to come by. Long ago, the whole idea of a skateboard was to ride it, and you rode it until it was really, really beat up. It’s nice to see some of them are still around with that original artwork on it.”
Photos and videos depicting local skater Tory Grant, a part of the Sketch Skateboards team, and a hand-drawn map of prime skate spots in Dallas made years ago by Back Mountain native and Philadelphia artist Keith Garcia also highlight the area’s connection to the sport.
“It really is a global phenomenon,” Pfeifer said, looking over a collection of images by Mike O’Meally. “He’s captured people in Sydney, in L.A., in Egypt, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.”
The Everhart is embracing all aspects of the culture for the show that runs through Dec. 30.
“It’s not meant to be an encyclopedic history of skateboarding. It’s more about the visual culture of it,” Pfeifer said.
Graffiti artist and Vans graphic designer Kris Kanaly painted the mural inside the Everhart just a few weeks before the opening and lent several pairs of special-edition shoes to display. It’s the first time graffiti has been painted inside the 105-year-old museum, Sutherland and Pfeifer believe.
“I got into a discussion with someone about it last week,” Sutherland said. “It’s not destructive. Graffiti – you think of Keith Haring and all of the young artists in New York City in the late ’70s and early ’80s who were out there creating public street art.”
“Today, it’s Banksy,” Pfeifer added.
While there are certainly opportunities to learn more about skateboarding through the exhibit, including an interactive feature about the varieties of materials used to make wheels, it’s more about capturing the visual essence of the sport.
“I think it very much emphasizes the creativity of skateboarding,” Pfeifer said.
While the show does run through the end of the year, it’s a rare chance to see some of these works together in the same gallery.
“The other show some of these artists appeared in, specifically Lia Halloran and Sean Greene, was in 2010 in D.C.,” Pfeifer noted.
Near one wall in the museum, Pfeifer stopped to point out a series of photo collages and light paintings that illustrate the paths riders take in bowls and on halfpipes.
“The artists have taken different elements of skateboarding and abstracted them. When you see skateboarders skateboarding, you think it’s the most daily thing you can look at. Then you see what the forms are that they make, and they’re exquisite,” Pfeifer said. “They’re so busy.”